Norman Callaway (courtesy: Wisden Monthly)
Norman Callaway (courtesy: Wisden Monthly)

Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.

– Alfred Edward Housman

The following is quoted from a school speech delivered in Australia on Remembrance Day: At 11 AM on this day in 1918 the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the Western Front fell silent, and the bloodiest war in history was over with the signing of an armistice. This first modern world conflict had brought about the mobilisation of over 70 million people all over the world and left between 9 and 13 million dead. An estimated 416,000 Australians had volunteered to fight for their country during World War I, out of which 60,000 lost their lives on foreign soil for this act of supreme courage.

This is the narrative one such youthful flame who was snuffed out in his prime at the altar of a global conflict.

The story begins at the turn of the 20th century in Hay, a small town in the western Riverina region of south western New South Wales, beside River Murrumbidgee, and the traditional home of three separate tribes of indigenous Aboriginal inhabitants prior to the European incursion of the area in the first half of the 19th century. On April 5, 1896, the family of Thomas Callaway, a local resident and the owner of a soap factory, and his wife Emily were blessed with a baby boy, whom they subsequently christened Norman Frank. Norman was educated at Hay Public School, where, along with academic knowledge, he learnt the basics of cricket.

Writing in The Guardian, Andy Bull speaks of how, in the school tournaments, Callaway performed surprisingly well, scoring 117 and 64 against Convent in 1910, the local paper speaking of him as the Trumper of the school . In 1912, Callaway scored 259 runs in 6 innings and captured 15 wickets with his variety of leg-spin bowling. In the same year, following a family bereavement, Thomas auctioned off his house, all his furniture, and factory and moved with his family to Sydney in November.

Norman Callaway came under the influence of Alec Bannerman at Sydney, a somewhat surprising synergy given the stoic batting style of the elder man known for his stonewalling , and the free-flowing batting style of the youth. Bannerman took him under his wing as Callaway made the transition through the different grades of Sydney cricket, mentoring him, particularly about the mental aspects of his game, promoting his name in the local media, and arranging for him to attend training sessions with the NSW Colts.

Callaway was soon playing for NSW Colts. Against Victoria Colts at Sydney he scored 14 in his only innings but picked up 2 wickets in a drawn game. In the return game at Melbourne, Callaway scored his first century in a recognisable standard of cricket, with 129 (in 135 minutes, with 21 fours) in the NSW Colts first innings of 514. Another centurion in the same innings was Bill Trenerry (130). This match was also drawn, with Callaway collecting a duck in the second innings. The Sydney Sun reported: He is one of the most promising colts seen for some time.

In the next Colts game against the Victoria Colts at Sydney, in 1914-15, Callaway scored 36 in his only innings of a drawn game interrupted by the weather. By this time he was making a name for himself in local cricket as a forceful right-hand batsman capable of scoring at a reasonably rapid rate, and possessed of cricketing strokes all around the wicket. He was signed up by Paddington for the Sydney First Grade matches in 1913-14. One of his teammates at Paddington, in fact, the skipper, was the great Monty Noble.

In his first Club game for Paddington at the age of 17 years 175 days, being sent in at No. 3, Callaway impressed one and all with an innings of 41 (top score) against Gordon (for whom the great Victor Trumper used to turn out), followed by scores of 16 and 26 against University and 137* against Middle Harbour in subsequent games. Sydney Morning Herald was all praise for his robust batting style and the crispness and strength of his driving. He scored 578 runs for Paddington in his inaugural season at an average of 41.28, even capturing 3 wickets. His performances in his first year in the First Grade soon had the media buzzing about how the hometown boy from Hay had made the city connoisseurs sit up and take notice of him.

At the start of 1914-15, Callaway moved to Waverley, where one of his teammates was a young Alan Kippax, alongside whom he was to play a number of games, and with whom he was to vie for top spot in the batting averages. The family took up residence at 22 Ebley Street, Waverley, a bare 15-minute walk away from the Waverley Cricket Club. By this time cricket had become an all-consuming passion with 18-year old Norman, and it showed in his performances on the cricket field.

The Mirror of Australia (Sydney) had this to say about Callaway s performances for Waverley: Another excellent batting performance was Norman Callaway s 71 and 73 for Waverley against Petersham. In the previous round, these two teams met, and Callaway scored 58, so that he has scored a quartet of fifties and over , as he also made 61 against University in the first round. Callaway is a glorious batsman to watch, and is a coming world s player. He is the personification of confidence, and is like the late Victor Trumper in that he invariably attacks the bowling; and, like the late great cricketer, he has also a beautiful swing , the bat generally describing three parts of a circle, and finishing well over the left shoulder.

The 1914-15 cricket season in Australia was drawing to a close and there was only one more scheduled match to play, the game between NSW and Queensland, to be played at Sydney from February 19, 1915. His evident promise and sterling performances throughout the season prompted NSW to cap Norman Callaway: he was selected to represent New South Wales for the match, in preference to Kippax, under skipper Charles Macartney, in what was billed as a timeless match.

Fast bowler John McLaren won the toss for Queensland and opted for first strike on a beautiful sunny Friday morning. The Queensland first innings was disposed of very quickly for 137 in just 50 overs, a very sudden and surprising turn of events, given that they had gone into lunch at 83 for 3. Lyall Wall and William Cullen, both making their First-Class debuts, took 4 wickets each, while Eric Bull had 2. Arthur Mailey, however, bowled only 3 wicketless overs.

The hosts were themselves soon in trouble, being 1 for 1, 17 for 2 and then 17 for 3, as the tall left-arm quick bowler John McAndrew clean-bowled all three batsmen in his first spell at a personal cost of just 9 runs. At about 4 o clock on the first afternoon, the third debutant for NSW, Norman Callaway, made his way to the wicket.

As had been predicted at his home town Hay long before, when his cricketing genius had first flowered, Callaway batted with a freedom beyond his years. The Herald commented: From the first ball, he swung the bat with great power and precision at anything within striking distance. The fourth-wicket stand realised 41 before opener Frank Farrar (27) was dismissed.

It had been decided earlier that the next man in was to have been Walter Pite, but Macartney, making a slight change in the batting order, came in himself to join his 18-year old at the wicket. The Governor General was dropped first ball at slip, perhaps the turning point of the game. By the time stumps were drawn on the first day, NSW had added 178 runs without any further loss of wickets. Callaway, Hay s knickerbocker champion, was unbeaten on 125 (in 130 minutes, with 16 fours) and his captain was batting on a more sedate 57. Callaway s display was one of the finest ever seen from a colt, was the considered opinion of The Herald.

The Referee (Sydney) reporting on the first day s play, had this to say: And the strange part of the story is that the biffing and banging were not done by the little man of might, but by the colt making his first appearance in First-Class cricket. The striking elements in the batting of Callaway were of the orthodox variety, from the straight bat in defence, to the lusty off-drive, which made the ball whiz past mid-off, or over the head of cover-point, or the shot inside point and in front of third man.

It was noted that Callaway had been given a life when on 41 when he had been missed by McAndrew off a difficult chance at point. His first fifty had taken 67 minutes while his second fifty had been raised in a mere 27 minutes of dazzling strokeplay, while the skipper had been more judicious in his scoring, given the state of the game and the loss of 4 wickets and the fact that he had been missed first ball in the slips off the bowling of his opposite number. Macartney was been a constant source of sage advice and encouragement to his young batting partner, telling him: You go right ahead, I ll keep my end up. Callaway was reported to have reached his maiden century with a magnificent straight drive that landed on the pickets at the far end.

When the 300 of the innings was raised on the second day, Callaway was on 161 and Macartney was batting on 93. Just before Macartney fell on 314, Queensland wicketkeeper John Farquhar suffered an injury when a ball from McAndrew jumped up and hit him in the eye, cutting it badly. He had to be taken to hospital to have the wound sutured. Macartney was dismissed for a well-made 103 (in 155 minutes, with only 5 fours, 2 of them all-run). The stand had been worth 256 in 155 minutes, 30 short of the extant Australian record of 286 runs between Noble (200) and Syd Gregory (176) for NSW against South Australia at Adelaide in 1899-90.

Callaway completed his double century in 206 minutes just before lunch on the second day, NSW adding 146 in the first session of play. The brilliant innings of the debutant ended when he was dismissed for 207 shortly after lunch, caught at slip from a deviation from the gloves of stand-in wicketkeeper James Sheppard, off skipper John McLaren. Callaway is reported to have become somewhat reckless after reaching 150, and, apart from his blemish at 41, had reprieves at 149, 163, 175, and 180. He was very warmly applauded as he retired, the media commented.

The NSW team s mastery of the bowling was such that the first maiden of the innings was bowled at the total of 439, when Charles Barstow almost had the wicket of Mailey in that over. When Pite (56) fell to Barstow, the bowler had his first wicket, having already conceded 117 runs. The innings finally ended at 468 in 103.5 overs of batting. McAndrew took 5 for 83 from 24 overs and Barstow 2 for 132.

There was a bit of thunder and a hint of rain in the air as Queensland began their innings. They batted one man short, as their injured wicketkeeper was still hors de combat from his eye injury. In any case, the innings folded up for 100. Mailey, with his mixed bag of leg-spinners, googlies and the arm ball, accounted for 5 of the batsmen at a personal cost of only 31 runs. NSW won the match by an innings and 231 runs, the game ending on the second day.

Callaway thus made his mark in the annals of Australian First-Class cricket by becoming the first to score a double century on First-Class debut in Australia. Overall, he was, of course, the second man to perform the feat, after Thomas Marsden, who had compiled 227 on debut in 8 hours for Sheffield and Leicester against Nottingham in 1826. Till date, there have been 17 players who have scored double centuries on First-Class debut, Sam Loxton (232* for Victoria against Queensland in 1946-47) and Jeffrey Hallebone (202 for Victorian against Tasmania in 1951-52) being the only other Australians to perform the feat.

The debut match of Callaway turned out to be the last First-Class cricket match played in Australia till December 1918, in deference to the outbreak of World War I and the fact that the youth of Australia were soon to become busy playing a more dangerous game on behalf of the Crown and country. Although he did play some Grade games for Waverley after the match described above, Callaway was not destined to play any further First-Class cricket.

The next part of Callaway s life story has been depicted in beautifully cultured language by Michael Atherton in The Times, with copious references from his war record. The record shows the youth, about one month into his 21st year (and allegedly lying about his age to avoid taking formal permission from his father before joining up), enlisting with the Australian Imperial Force from the Dubbo Depot recruiting centre on May 17, 1916, and becoming eligible for service abroad. His physical attributes are listed as: height: 5 feet 7 inches, weight: 138 pounds, eyes: blue, hair: brown, and complexion: fresh. He was documented with the army service number of 5794.

After basic training, Private Callaway is recorded as having boarded the Ceramic from Sydney with his company, the 19th Battalion, on October 7, 1916, on his way to England, and reaching Plymouth on November 21. He later left England on the Clementine from Folkestone, sailing for France on December 28. It was in May 1917 that Private Callaway found himself at Hindenburg Line, at Bullecourt, in the thick of the Second Battle of Arras. His movements are fairly well documented up to this point in time. His whereabouts from the May 3 onwards remain somewhat unclear. His official army record, however, shows him as being killed in action that very day.

Norman Callaway s body was never recovered from the battlefield, and he probably never had a proper burial. Along with that of many others, Callaway s name is enshrined on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in Picardie, France. His name is located on Panel 88 of the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial.

Bull ends his evocative article by saying: They have had a lot of good cricketers in Hay, before the first world war and since. For a long time, whenever a local boy started scoring runs, the papers would compare him to another, one who had played like Trumper for the Public School, scored hundreds in Sydney first grade and who, over two sunny days at the SCG, made a glorious double century in the only three hours of first class batting life allowed him. But none of the others lived up to it. There never was, never would or will be, another quite like Norman Callaway.

Numbers, especially while dealing with small samples, can often be quite befuddling, particularly when the figures surface from the distant past. Here was a man who scored 207 in his only First-Class innings, and was dismissed, consequently going down in the records as having a First-Class batting average of 207, an astronomical figure. Don Bradman s career First-Class average was a phenomenal 95.14, an almost iconic figure. But then Bradman had played 234 First-Class matches and had scored a small matter of 28,067 runs. It will clearly, then, be a somewhat specious argument to place Callaway ahead of the great man; Callaway will forever remain in the minds of cricket followers as the man who scored 207 in his only innings in First-Class cricket, nothing more, and nothing less.

In the pavilion of the Waverley Cricket Club, one can still see a photograph of the forever young Norman Callaway, and can still read the lines from a poem by Robert W Service, often referred to as the Bard of the Yukon, attached to the photograph:

And though there’s never a grave to tell,

Nor a cross to mark his fall,

Thank God! we know that he “batted well”

In the last great Game of all.